Rugby Union: Power Ranking Dan Carter's Potential Backups
New Zealand's favourite underwear model makes his way back to a starting XV for the first time since his injury during the World Cup this Sunday against the Lions. Although he and New Zealand's other favourite son, Richie McCaw, have both re-signed with the NZRU until 2015, at 30 years old, it is time for Steve Hansen and his crew to groom his replacements.
Last year during the World Cup, the All Blacks rotated between Colin Slade, Aaron Cruden and Stephen Donald. Of those three, Cruden looks like the only one who will be fit for this year's test season. But the first few weeks of the Super Rugby season have shown some great performances from some potential future All Black pivots.
Here are some of the men who could be backing up Dan the Man come June...
Colin Slade leaves the field with a broken leg
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Colin Slade - It seems Slade's time in the deep south is cursed. Against the Brumbies he broke his leg, and he'll be unavailable for the rest of the rugby year.
Lima Sopoaga - Slade's backup was also bit by the injury bug, suffering a shoulder injury that will keep him out until later in the season. The 21-year-old Wellingtonian was a solid backup who may develop into a starter sometime in the future
Piri Weepu - Although many wanted him to be first five-eighth when Carter went down last year, his performances for the Blues show that he is far more comfortable at halfback. At five-eighth he offers little more than goal kicking and is far more useful when he's directing play from the back of the ruck.
5. Chris Noakes
Noakes playing for Otago
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The Highlanders' injury woes has led to Otago man Chris Noakes leading the backline.
He is a solid player, as he has shown for Otago and Bay of Plenty, but he is by far the least likely to receive a test cap this year of the remaining New Zealand pivots.
The provincial veteran has little Super Rugby experience and will need to step up his game to keep the Highlanders' championship aspirations alive.
4. Gareth Anscombe
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After a dream debut against the Bulls, Anscombe came back to earth the following week against the Stormers and missed some game time after breaking his nose.
He has great speed and a solid kicking game, but has yet to show consistency and needs more experience at Super Rugby level. However, he is still young and may one day mature into the great pivot the Blues have wanted since the days of Carlos Spencer.
3. Tyler Bleyendaal
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Former Baby Blacks captain and Under-20 Player of the Year nominee Bleyendaal has done a decent job in Dan Carter's place, but has not made the same impact at Super Rugby level.
He beats Gareth Anscombe due to having played a few more games, but with Carter's impending return, it's unknown how much game time he'll receive the rest of the season.
2. Beauden Barrett
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The man who killed the Blues has been nothing short of outstanding in his first year of Super Rugby. His combination with fellow rookie TJ Perenara has been one of the reasons the Hurricanes have had their surprise success.
Electric Taranaki playmaker Beauden Barrett has done a great job leading the Hurricanes backline, showing a near seamless transition to Super Rugby. He has outstanding speed and a great sidestep, and is only getting better with time.
1. Aaron Cruden
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The Chiefs currently top the New Zealand conference and one of the reasons for that is the great play of Aaron Cruden. He has continued his great play of last year's World Cup and ITM Cup and has helped bring the best out of an already stacked Chiefs backline. He's run the ball well and has also showed great play on defense despite his size.
He is the only one of these players with test experience and barring injury, Cruden should be the man backing up Dan Carter come test season. He looks like he may be the man wearing the black 10 jersey once Carter hangs up his boots.